You know when a Murdoch “‘makes nice”, as Americans say, that the family wants something — say, a government decision favourable to their wealth, a deal that will enrich them and their power. And you know that when the Murdochs are feeling powerful and invulnerable, the old arrogance and disdain for the rest of society and others in business emerges in full pomp. Dad Rupert is a notorious weathervane, and sons Lachlan and James, especially James, have been quick learners.

Look back seven years ago, when James Murdoch used the annual McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV festival to slag the BBC, saying the public service broadcaster’s ambitions were “chilling”. He also heavily criticised UK media industry regulator Ofcom, the European Union and the government, accusing the latter of “dithering” and failing to protect British companies from the threat of online piracy.

The BBC was the prime target of his attack:

“The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country. Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.”

He also said Murdoch the BBC’s news operation was “throttling” the market, preventing its competitors from launching or expanding their own services, particularly online:

“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it. We seem to have decided to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market, and get bigger to compensate.”

Overnight Thursday James Murdoch fronted a media industry function in London and the “nice” James emerged, or as the Financial Times reported, ”James Murdoch launched a charm offensive to win over potential opponents to the 21st Century Fox’s attempt to seize full control of media group Sky”. The timing of the speech was interesting — Fox is expected to formally submit the merger for review to European regulators tonight, our time. That process in turn will trigger a review by the British Culture Secretary, who has 10 days to decide whether the deal should be reviewed by the UK’s Ofcom media regulator. No wonder Murdoch company executives had at least 10 meetings with UK ministers or public servants in the year to September 2016. The Ofcom he bagged in 2009 is now a wise guide for UK media.

In his speech overnight James Murdoch made nice, saying in part:

“We are in an era of ultimate plurality where choice, sources and access are multiplied even from where we were only five years ago. The UK creative economy stands tall on the world stage. But past performance is no guarantee of future results. Every day we see new entrants armed with fresh capital and a predisposition for disruption.”

And showing that he can backflip with Dad at the highest level, James Murdoch also praised the UK’s public service broadcast sector: “There’s real clarity around the role of the public service system that does a lot of great work,” and noted its “strong public service output.”

The Murdochs are Olympic gold medal diving standard — backflips with pike and twist. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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